Readying Ourselves to Engage the World
It is my contention that Christians lack the motivation to evangelize because they lack confidence confronting unbelievers with the gospel. That lack of confidence, I believe, is due largely in part to the lack of proper instruction on the subject of evangelism and apologetics.
Doing apologetics and evangelism requires a good defense for the faith and a good offense to challenge the hearts of unbelievers. Defending the faith begins with a life saturated in God's Word that shows forth godly character submitted to Christ's Lordship. Challenging the unbeliever involves directly assailing the worldview he has created for himself by confronting his heart and mind with the truth of God revealed in Christ. Hence, effective apologetics and evangelism will utilize both defensive and offensive tactics to proclaim the gospel of Christ.
With this bit of background, allow me to get practical with these principles so we can ready ourselves to engage the world with the gospel. I believe there are three primary areas to address: Our preparation, our practice, and our pitfalls.
There are two important points we need to grasp in order to get prepared,
First, Know your Faith.
This is an unspoken given. So why even mention it? Simply because many evangelical Christians are spiritually illiterate when it comes to their faith. Some folks even seem to be willfully ignorant. It's as if they don't really care about learning the Bible, or key doctrines, or any theology at all. I find this attitude of self-imposed ignorance mystifying.
I would think any person who genuinely experiences a spiritual awakening would immediately desire to know the faith he or she just embraced as true. This was my experience when the Lord saved me. Yet sadly this is not the case for many Christian. Older, more seasoned Christians are often times even more ignorant.
They tend to only listen to CCM and rarely if ever think to listen to good biblical preaching. They may attend a weekly Bible study, if one is even offered, but the study is superficial. Church has become a routine done on Sunday mornings. A good service is judged by how well the pastor captivated the audience, or perhaps how much the music moved the people to experience "glory bumps." Now, there are probably legitimate reasons why this lazy attitude exists in Christians, say for example, poor pastoring from the pulpit or insufficient discipleship, but whatever the case, if a Christian is truly serious about evangelisms, he must stir from his spiritual stupor and begin knowing his faith. How can this be done?
Begin first by regularly reading the Bible.
The Christian must get into the disciplined habit of reading the Bible daily. I can't emphasize this enough,
Cultivating a habit with reading scripture is an absolute, a"no other options" must for a Christian's life.
You can never defend anything you know nothing about, and you can certainly never proclaim it to others with any authority, either. Neglecting the reading of scripture is inexcusable, because there are many helps available in our day and age to aide a person in this area. For example, there are a number of "Through the Bible in a Year" outlines, including reasonably priced editions which break the scriptures up so a person can begin on January 1st, and if read faithfully every day, the entire Bible will be completed by December 31st.
A person doesn't have to get up at 4 AM to read the Bible. Find whatever time works best for you and start reading it through. I personally like the evening hours. Even if a person has reading disabilities and takes TWO years to read through the Bible, well fine, if that is what it takes. The important thing is reading it.
Once you have read through the Bible a few times, I would suggest find a short, NT book you happened to like and picking up a short, but soundly written commentary, and do an in-depth study on that one book. One year, I wanted to learn Galatians. I picked up maybe 4 or 5 commentaries, short in length and written by solid guys, and spent a year (along with my daily Bible reading) studying Galatians. I have done this with Romans, though not extensively as Galatians, 1 - 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and the Pastoral epistles of Paul.
Also, listen to good preaching, particularly expository preaching, either by listening to the radio or purchasing CDs, tapes or MP3s. Excellent expository preaching is a fantastic way to learn the Bible as you read it regularly.
Second, supplement your daily Bible reading with reading good, biblically rich books written by solid men and women.
Along with the Bible, you want to gather around yourself good books written by solid men and women whose doctrine and ideas are shaped by the text of scripture. These are not the devotional style books found on the top 20 lists available at the local retail Christian bookstore which is usually overstocked with religious paraphernalia like Precious Moments figurines, footprints plaques, and all the CCM a person can humanly listen to.
The books I am talking about here are often written by individuals who are dead, like the Puritans, but their work is still in print because of the genuine value of their books contained. They cover important doctrinal subjects like God's attributes, the authority of God's Word, or the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the doctrines of salvation, and Christian sanctification. Those are the books you want to find and read, for they will help familiarize you with the teaching of scripture.
I can recall the first time I met John Piper when he spoke during one of our seminary chapel times. He had given a heart stirring message on the personal priorities of a pastor and afterward I had occasion to ask him which Christian books and authors impacted his faith. I remember him pausing and then replying that rather than picking a variety of authors and books, he recommended finding a man who has written extensively and has been tried by time as being a faithful theologian and teacher, and read everything he wrote available in print. At the time, Piper told us he had just finished the works of Jonathan Edwards and was then studying the life works of John Owen. (I still stagger at that thought!). I was encouraged by his words, because I had read much of A.W. Pink's printed materials and was starting to immerse myself in the printed sermons of Thomas Watson. Piper provides excellent advice for supplementing consistent Bible reading.
Third, get yourself a good systematic theology.
A systematic theology is one of those real thick books with itty-bitty print and are generally more expensive that your regular book. For the laymen, they can be scary. However systematic theologies do what it's title proclaims: it systematizes theological subjects by organizing biblical doctrine into logical categories and showing how they all function in a comprehensive whole.
A systematic theology may be intimidating for some because it is so overwhelming in volume, but don't let size discourage you for securing a couple of different ones.
The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns is a good starter, as is the classic Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof. A couple of more recent ones which are more in-depth, but geared for laymen and are easy to read are, Robert Reymond's New Systematic Theology and Robert Duncan Culver's Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. You may not agree with every conclusion a particular author makes with his points of theology, but a good systematic theology will help immensely with framing a theological structure built upon a strong foundation of daily Bible reading.
Realize that you will not be an immediate expert in all things theological and apologetic. But, you will be developing habits which will serve you well when you evangelize.
Second, Know Your Friend.
A second important truth to keep in mind as you prepare to engage the world with the gospel is to remember you are engaging unbelievers. We tend to forget this sometimes. Even though you have a friend who is sweet and nice, he or she is a sinner in need of a savior and it is the main reason a person is resistant to your message of salvation.
Let us be reminded of some basic facts concerning the unbelieving friend you are about to engage:
- Your friend will be deceived by the world's wisdom of this age. He may be enamored with so-called experts perceived as authoritative in his life. These authorities can take many forms: false religions, pseudo-Christian cults, secular personalities. Who, or whatever, this authority is will hold sway in your friend's heart by forming his perceptions and presuppositions about reality.
- As a result of sin, your friend is darkened to spiritual truth (Ephesians 4:17 ff.). He doesn't properly understand spiritual truth, and may in point of fact think you are "nutty" for believing any thing spiritual to begin with.
- Your friend is also hostile to God. He is opposed to the Law of God and ultimately doesn't want to have anything to do with it (Romans 8:5-9). His hostility may be mild or severe depending upon the person.
Even though he is darkened to spiritual truth and hostile to God, you still must persevere with giving him the gospel. You possess the only message by which your friend can be saved. Only the gospel can bring him to a place where he is reconciled to God and live in a spiritually functional life pleasing unto the Lord. Additionally, you engage him in the power of the Spirit. Hence, God has mandated His people to present the gospel and He equips them with the ability to be effective, so regardless of how resistant your friend may be, God's Spirit can easily break through the hardness of heart.
With those basics in mind, allow me to turn to considering,
Keep in mind that when you engage an unbeliever with the truth of the gospel and discuss eternal things, two opposing world views are meeting head-to-head. The encounter could be likened to two kingdoms at battle or two authorities competing for devotion.
On the one hand there is a Christian with a God-centered view of reality with Christ as his sovereign, redemptive Lord. On the other, is the unbeliever with his self-centered view of reality with his idolatrous understanding of God or god/gods as his lord. The Christian sees the world filtered through the self-disclosed revelation of the eternal God as contained in Scripture. The unbeliever sees the world filtered through the self-deceived philosophies of fallen men.
With such diverse opposite perspectives, how exactly does one make headway?
As I mentioned in a previous article, the Bible provides us with some specific insights to the nature of the unbeliever. Let me quickly review the key ones,
First, All people know God in their hearts. There is not a person on earth who doesn't believe in God because he hasn't been shown enough compelling evidence. That is because all men are created in the image of God. Unbelief is not a matter of there being no evidence, its having no changed heart. What unbelievers do with the reality of God's existence is to suppress that truth. They do that by appealing to fanciful and imaginative excuses in the form of philosophies, worldly opinions, idolatrous false religions and so forth, as a justification for not believing God in the way He has revealed Himself in scripture. They know he exists, they just refuse to submit to him as their Lord.
I have a modern day example of what I mean. Back in December 2004, I was with my family at Disneyland with a group of friends and as we were in line waiting to get on some ride, a group of anti-Bush malcontents came striding past us. One of the guys was wearing a tee shirt with a big image of a stern faced George Bush plastered on the front with the words scrawled across it, NOT MY PRESIDENT. I had to keep from laughing at him until he walked on past with his pals, because I thought myself, "his shirt represents the nature of unbelief. " This little punk didn't reject Bush as president because he wasn't thoroughly convinced he existed. He rejected Bush as president because he hated him so much. Its the matter of this kid's heart, not what is true.
However, it is a fallacious assertion to proclaim George Bush is "Not my president," because it doesn't matter how much a person despises Bush as a person or how much he or she hates his policies in the world, he is still your president - end of issue, period. And to demonstrate that he is YOUR president, George Bush could exercise the full force of his elected office to really mess up your life. The same is true of the LORD. It is only by grace He hasn't brought the full force of his absolute sovereignty to bear upon your life to really mess it up.
Second, All people have belief convictions they trust with their lives. These personal convictions are formed by a variety of sources: a person's up-bringing, education, religious beliefs, etc, and they shape a person's perspective on life. These convictions provide a person with the basic answers to the "meaning of life;" issues that have eternal consequences, like "why am I here?" "What happens when I die?" and similar questions along those lines, and they shape personal opinions that intersect with the rest of the world. More importantly, these belief convictions are often appealed to so as to help explain away the feelings of guilt all men created in the image of God, but separated from him, experience. People know they are separated from God, so the world view philosophies they allow to govern their lives provide them assurance about choices and beliefs they make which in reality have those eternal consequences.
Third, All people, by and large, live widely inconsistent to their chosen world view they use to justify meaning in their lives. This inconsistency may be manifested in a myriad of ways, because for each person it will be different. For example, a person may have multi-cultural convictions and argue all cultures are equally good and no other culture should imply they have better values than another culture. Yet, if individuals from another culture were to express their values of burning alive widows at their husband's funerals, the multi-culturalist will become outraged. Many people may hold differing convictions about how THEY think the world should run, until they are inconvenienced by convictions that are oppsite the beliefs in their personal lives.
Now, with these thoughts in mind, the goal of the Christian is simple when he or she engages the unbeliever:
Gently, and with reverence, confront this person's convictions, along with the inconsistency often displayed between those convictions and how the person really lives. Then you bring in the gospel by showing the person he can't truly place his trust in those chosen beliefs and the only person he can trust is the Living God who has given His son, Jesus Christ, to redeem a people called by His name and who restores an unbeliever to a functional spiritual relationship with his Creator.
I realize that's a mouth full, but that will be your goal. How the evangelistic apologist will accomplish that goal differs from person to person, evangelist to evangelist.
The easiest way to challenge your friend will be to ask questions. Ask him why he believes the way he believes. If he is prone to make dogmatic assertions, ask him to explain what he means, or how it is exactly he can justify his dogmatic assertions. If he values the teaching of a particular individual or organization, ask him to explain why.
Basically, you are asking your friend about "politics and religion." You know, the old saying of how people don't like to speak about politics and religion. That is because those two subjects reveal a person's heart and what he or she values. Your questions should be the ones which reveal a person's heart, especially discovering what he or she thinks of death and eternity and the forgiveness of sins. Believe me, no matter how hardened an unbeliever may be, those subjects do occupy his mind frequently.
And, all the while you are challenging your friend, you should be unashamedly bringing to bear upon his world view the Word of God and the Gospel. Never abandon the foundation of God's Word on which you stand. It alone is your authority. The person may mockingly accuse you of blindly believing the Bible, but he is also blindly following an authority, even though he may not realize it.
In spite of excellent preparation and a flawless ability to practically present any apologetic material and provide a compelling evangelistic witness, there will be some pitfalls endangering our efforts. Our ministry will only be served and much improved if we take note of these pitfalls so as to avoid them.
1) Quickly Becoming Discouraged Even though we should expect unbelievers in rebellion against God to respond with negative reactions and hostility when we attempt to evangelize them, the experience can still be disheartening. If we really care about a close loved one, the discouragement can compound, especially if it is a sibling, a parent, an aunt or uncle, or even a spouse. At those times, we need to remind ourselves again of who it is we are speaking to: a ornery sinner. The person may be nice, sweet, and a faithful friend, but as a sinner, the person doesn't want anything to do with God.
If the individual happens to be a close loved one, someone you may see regularly, it may be wise to step back from the verbal evangelistic confrontation and merely love the person with silent, faithful service. The power of a changed, quiet life devoted to God can shout volumes into the hearts of an unbeliever (1 Peter 3:1-7). Eventually, in God's timing, the person will come back around to talking about the Lord. Just be alert to when it happens.
2) Overwhelming The Person With Too Much Information Sometimes when those evangelistic encounters come about, there is a tendency on the part of the Christian to present the person with every argument in defense of Christianity the Christian has ever learned. Such an approach can be a frightening experience and will just make the person want to shut down and not engage in any conversation. The better approach is to go slow and present a little bit of information at a time. Take as much time to answer any objections and concerns the person may have. And of course, listen more than you may talk, allowing your words to be carefully selected and to the point.
3) Attempt To Win An Argument Don't come across as wanting to pick a fight and win. Even if the person is a big mouthed skeptic who needs to be shut down and put into his place, attempting to win the argument can potentially lead to heated words, raised voices, and flaring tempers that will merely damage your character. If the conversation is becoming argumentative, the better course of actions is to graciously bow out by ending it or changing the subject.
4) Treating The Person As An Enemy Along the lines of coming across as argumentative is the danger of treating the unbeliever as an enemy. It can be easy to fall into that trap if the person is adversarial with his mocking scorn. However, we cannot fail to think evangelistically with compassion toward the individual. The person is a sinner in need of being rescued.
We shouldn't think like Jonah who wanted the people of Nineveh to die in judgment, but sadly, many Christians have these feelings against the sinners in our culture. Rather than seeing the lost as our mission field who need to hear the message of reconciliation, they are viewed as the troublers of American values who must be stopped at all costs. These people forget they were one time hostile to the gospel as well. They may had been out right mean-spirited about it, but if the people who shared with them had treated them as an enemy they may had never heard the gospel. We are the ambassadors of God's grace, not the proclaimers of eternal punishment.
5) Laziness We don't take the time to prepare our minds for the task of evangelism. It may be we don't even really care about reaching our loved ones for Christ because it forces us out of our comfort zone. Faithful evangelism means we have to take the time - time we would otherwise use to spend on ourselves - to get to know the person. We have to get involved with his life and that takes away from time spent with the people we like. I say that with all fingers pointing back at me, because I am all too familiar with this pitfall. But we must shake ourselves from that lazy stupor and involve ourselves with the messiness of people's lives that is encountered when we evangelize.
6) Forget To Bathe The Time In Prayer According to Paul's words in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians, we proclaim Christ and Him crucified. We go in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we need to look in prayer to the God of salvation to direct our efforts and to work in the person's heart. That is why you don't have to be super eloquent in your speech, or an expert know-it-all on every major cult, religion and "ism" in the world. As long as you do your part by preparing spiritually with sanctification and study of the Word, God will take care of the rest.
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